It was probably good for Bryan Cranston that he was so good in Trumbo, snagged an Oscar nomination, and then did this movie. In The Infiltrator, it feels a bit like Walter White, although he’s working for the good guys. This is a true story, based on the bestseller by Robert Mazur, a U.S. customs special agent who went undercover in the ‘80s. In doing this, he went after some of the big banks that laundered money for the drug cartels.
With that kind of story, it’s not a movie that has a lot of surprises. That doesn’t mean you’re not on the edge of your seat most of the time; even if you do cringe when characters say things like “Go home to your wife” or “Take ‘em away, boys.” Perhaps that’s the downfall of directing a script a relative wrote (I couldn’t figure out if the screenwriter was the wife or mother of director Brad Furman).
Of course you’ll have the standard scene with the wife (Juliet Aubrey) being upset with the secrecy of her husband’s undercover work. In one amazing scene, we see things get rather crazy at an anniversary dinner with his wife, when he runs into one of the drug lords. What happens is just mesmerizing. And again, you’ve seen this stuff before. It reminded me of Johnny Depp in Donnie Brasco, going to to a Japanese restaurant with the mobsters. Even when you know these guys will somehow talk (or punch) their way out of the scenario, it’s still tense, and a lot of fun to watch unfold.
There’s a point in this movie where Mazur has to be given a fake fiancee (Diane Kruger, of Inglourious Basterds). She’s a new agent, and at first you think maybe Cranston is a bit old to be playing this part. Yet he’s so good, it works.
Equally good is John Leguizamo. I’ve been saying for years, in every role he is in, he brings an energy that works wonderfully. He’s Mazur’s partner and a bit of a loose canon. He drives around in a loud, yellow sports car, drinks too much, and doesn’t think twice about sleeping with hookers when he’s undercover. If you think he might get into a jam at some point, you’re right. And it’s intense.
When his character Emir Abreu questions why Mazur would continue to do this, when the opening scene shows him hurt on the job and eligible for retirement with full benefits…you wonder if the movie might have sugarcoated his character a bit, so he’d be a bit more likable. For example, in American Sniper, you can’t help but love Chris Kyle. Then I found out later, in his book, he was a lot more arrogant than the film portrayed. Perhaps Mazur was a lot more like Emir, and did love the adrenaline and other “perks” of doing all this dangerous undercover work. If he really was doing this all just to keep drugs off the street, you have to wonder how good a father and husband he really was. I’d say…not a great one.
Benjamin Bratt was good, playing a cartel leader that Mazur befriends. It would’ve been a better role had we not just seen Bratt play a bad guy in the horrible Ride Along 2. And speaking of Kevin Hart movies, in his other recent one — Central Intelligence — Amy Ryan plays the CIA boss. She’s playing the same character here.
Again, the movie deserves credit because all these actors make us think about previous parts they’ve played. The film itself feels like another Blow, Donnie Brasco, or any number of undercover cops in danger film you’ve seen — yet you’re still entertained watching it. I’m still baffled at how the horribly done The Departed got so overly praised (even winning Oscars), and early reviews of this movie have been mixed.
Director Brad Furman worked with Leguizamo in The Take, and he gave us the horrible Lincoln Lawyer (side note: is that the movie that lead to Matthew McConaughey doing all those lame Lincoln commercials?). Furman definitely has a few missteps in his direction here, but overall, the film worked.
It gets an extra star for a great soundtrack that included Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman,” Leonard Cohen, The Who, Rush (but did it have to be “Tom Sawyer”?), and the Violent Femmes (but I’ll take away half a star for the sounds of a bowling alley being louder than the Femmes song “Kiss Off”).
If you don’t want to fight the crowds at Ghostbusters this weekend, go see this. You won’t be disappointed.
3 ½ stars out of 5.